Belinda Medlyn on climate-carbon-vegetation interactions

The land biosphere takes up a big chunk of atmospheric CO2 emissions. But how, where, and for how long remains an area of, ahem, active research. Or put another way, there’s a lot we STILL don’t know about how increased CO2 will manifest, or not, as an ongoing increase in the terrestrial uptake of carbon. Belinda Medlyn and her colleagues are hot on the topic, with experiments, theoretical analysis, and swaths of models. Despite, or perhaps because of, the wild complexity of the interactions, the field is fertile ground for this kind of multidisciplinary exploration, and Belinda talks Mike through some of the most compelling topics in the field — all of which are under intense debate (N limitations, anyone?).

Belinda has also worked hard to build her career while having the family life she wanted. For her, this meant extended periods of part-time work while raising her sons, before returning to a full-time position. Belinda’s example shows that — with the right support — one can commit fully to both family and career, especially if maximum effort on both isn’t contemporaneous. For Belinda, the separation of priorities over time was hugely beneficial, and highlights the need for a more flexible attitude to career progression and development.

Credit: Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment

Abby Swann on plants in the climate system

Abby Swann tells Mike how plants both respond to and affect climate change. Some of this seems obvious: more CO2, more photosynthesis, bigger plants. Maybe, but there’s a lot more to it: nutrient limitations (or lack thereof!), changes in respiration, stomatal conductance downregulation, drought responses, sea ice interactions, atmospheric feedbacks, changes in land cover … the interactions are complex and numerous. With her strong background in both atmospheric sciences and land-atmosphere interactions, Abby is ideally placed to be tackling these issues, and we talk through a lot of them. Abby, like many academics, has had to grapple with discussions surrounding sexual harassment, and we round out the conversation with a hopefully helpful discussion of how to at least frame supportive discussions within a research group.

Abby Swann

Into the woods with Julia Pongratz

In episode 53 of Forecast, Mike talks with Julia Pongratz¬†from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology about the role of land cover and land use change in the climate system. Julia began working on the topic with an unbelievable challenge: simulating the impacts of LCLUC over the past millennium. Now her interests encompass geoengineering, climate mitigation and model intercomparisons, with a focus on understanding the ever-complex interactions among biophysical and biogeochemical feedbacks. Also, Julia assures Mike that, unlike in Maine, the ticks aren’t too horrendous in Germany. Probably. At least in the big cities.